PHAS 111220

MANSFIELD -- Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday defended his potential decision to again close bars, restaurants and fitness centers, saying the state has evidence of COVID-19 spread in those operations.

The governor's comments came as Richland County remained "red," or level three, for the seventh straight week in the state's color-coded, COVID-19 monitoring system.

The county recorded 431 new positive tests in the last two weeks, met five of the Public Health Advisory System's seven indicators for the fifth time in the last six weeks and had sufficient new cases to qualify as "high incidence" for virus spread under CDC standards for the fourth week in a row.

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DeWine pointed out that 68 of the state's 88 counties were "red" this week and that 86 percent of the state's residents lived in a level-three county. Another 19 counties are "orange," or level two, and only one county is ranked at "yellow," or level one.

"We have evidence. There is spread in bars. There is spread in restaurants. Is there spread elsewhere? Absolutely. There is spread everywhere," the governor said, indicating people are retreating indoors as colder temperatures arrive in Ohio.

"It makes inside activities more difficult, more dangerous potentially," said DeWine said, adding people spend more time in restaurants, bars and gyms without a mask on while eating, drinking and working out.

The governor said that makes such settings  "much more risky" and "there is a reason other states have closed bars and restaurants," adding his administration has been less restrictive than in some states.

DeWine said no final decision has been made regarding such closures and that he believes most restaurants and bars operate responsibly.

"We have not made a final decision on that," he said. "If things don't change in a week, we will have to do this. This is not a decision I would take lightly, but we would have to do something to slow this virus down."

Ohio recorded a record 7,101 positive tests in the last 24 hours, more than 3,000 above the average for the last 21 days. The state recorded new hospitalizations, above the 21-day average of 185.  Ohio also had 35 deaths, above the average of 24.

In the 20th week of the advisory system launched in July to monitor community COVID-19 spread, Richland County "triggered" these five indicators: new cases per capita; sustained increase in new cases; proportion of cases not in a congregate setting; sustained increase in emergency department visits for COVID-like illness; and sustained  increase in outpatient visits for COVID-like illness.

Crawford County was also "red" again this week, triggering three of seven indicators, also also listed as "high incidence" with 479.59 cases per 100,000 residents.

According to Richland Public Health, county residents should follow the recommended guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

-- Wear a face covering when out in the public.

-- Must wear a face covering when entering a retail business or grocery

-- Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from non-household members.

-- Follow good hygiene standards, including washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer frequently.

-- Avoid touching your face.

-- Cover coughs or sneezes (e.g., into a tissue, or elbow).

-- Symptom self-evaluation monitoring.

-- Decrease in-person interactions with others.

-- Limit attending gatherings of any number.

-- Conduct a daily health/symptom self-evaluation and stay at home if symptomatic.

-- Seek medical care as needed, but limit or avoid unnecessary visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care facilities to see others as much as possible.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"